31 August 2008

In absentia

I’ve been AWOL but I have an excuse: I’ve been trapped in Abbey Road Studios. Oh no, silly me, it’s my back room; it just looks like Abbey Road. The thing is, we are now coming to the end of a process that has seen what the estate agents would call a second reception transformed from office-cum-crud-heap into a musically-oriented withdrawing room. In return for me spending lots of money in furnishing it, I’ve had to give A a bit of space in which to install his homage to Jean Michel Jarre. I only had one criterion – it had to be neat. So he’s gone and bought a three tier keyboard stand that looks like some sort of medieval step machine and has spent all weekend carefully plugging everything into everything else: keyboards, drum machine, mixing desk, amp and laptop. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? But he doesn’t really play as such, just amuses himself with the internal electronics and external knobs, making a succession of ridiculous bongs and parps and weeaaaahhhhs and werrggghhhs that have the dogs heading for the exit. But he’s happy, that’s the main thing, and he’s also kept within the 10 square centimetres I gave him as his room allowance.

There’s a vile rumour afoot that we’re off to the boat next weekend – now where did we leave it?

And talking of a foot, Arthur's is healing up very nicely. It was only a bit of his toe that was amputated, not the whole thing, thankfully, and it doesn't seem to have affected his ability to charge up and down the stairs. Or skid into the kitchen at the sound of the fridge door opening....

28 August 2008

Art - almost

Now that A has his keyboard hobby, I’ve been on the lookout for something I can do while he’s twiddling his knobs and thunking his keys. One of my mother’s friends that we met last week is an artist and we got to talking, me eventually despairing of ever being able to create anything on paper as I had the drawing talent of a cat. But Lynne wouldn’t have that and said that everyone could learn, you just needed to put a bit of effort into it. So there’s me, back in the UK and hammering Amazon for sketch pads, pencils and ‘how to draw’ books. They turned up, I set to, and the cat would have used the paper more artistically. I was doing nothing more than scribbling. It was risible. It wasn’t even very good scribbling. So there came that Rubicon moment of, Shall I just give this up as a bad idea and say no more about it, or, Shall I buck my bloody ideas up and take some time and care and do it properly?

Well, unusually for me I opted for the latter and I have to say that I’m delighted I did. My most recent efforts have actually been recognisable as something and I’m enjoying sussing out all the various techniques you can use. I don’t think the Royal Academy will come calling any time soon but I’m having fun, which is the main thing. And I could always try my hand at installation art a la Tracey Emin. How about Dog Beds, a unique construction illustrating a dog’s complex relationship with a stinky pillow smeared with peanut butter? At ten grand, it’s a steal....

27 August 2008

An apology

In a recent post I may have given the impression that I thought Arthur dog was a bit of a wuss. Far too many canine histrionics even if he did half rip out his claw. Except he didn’t. He actually broke his little toe – broke as in completely disconnected from the rest of his skeletal skeleton. Ouch. It’s now been amputated so that’s another bit of Arthur gone missing – it’ll match his demi-ear. The vet was amazed that he didn’t howl all the way down the autoroute so I’m afraid I’ve sorely misjudged him. He’s now hopping around merrily fuelled by some huge yellow happy pills. I’m wondering if he’ll miss any...

26 August 2008

Best laid plans

Do you remember the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge? They charted the adventures of Jennings and his mate Derbishire at their prep school – and to borrow from the Linbury Court vernacular, they were wizard, not ozard. Jennings had a wide repertoire of memorable expressions, one of my favourite being ‘addle-pated clodpoll’. And it was obviously an APC who drew up this year’s stoppage list and decided to put restrictions on the Llangollen both sides of Christmas. Bang goes our supersonic wheeze to miss all the crowds and tootle out and back come December; we can’t even make use of the festive window as we have other plans this year. Another almighty bish. Why do these frantic hoo-hahs always happen to us?

25 August 2008

Le retour

The last time we journeyed home from France the passenger door on our then van decided not to shut. Which meant holding onto it. With some 600 miles still to go. Nice. So how refreshing to have the use of both hands this time, to sit back and relax and drink coffee while scoffing Kitkats. It helped pass the 24 hour epic journey (sleep included) and we were pleased to get home and find all was as we had left it. It was not without a tinge of regret that we left the space and tranquillity of the Aude. Our last day had been highly enjoyable with a morning visit to friends and their amazing eco-house (cue large amounts of envious and somewhat unedifying drooling at the 180 degree panoramic view towards the Pyrenees) and then dinner with them that evening at the rather wonderful Domaine Gayda. It may look like something out of the High Chaparral but the food, ambience, service and wine was absolutely cracking. Even easily pleased me was ultra pleased. I couldn’t help but notice that A lapped up not just his filet de bouef and his rosti but also did a fair old demolishing act on the mange tout. You never eat my mange tout at home, challenged I. Yes, but these ones aren’t gritty like yours, jousted he. Luckily he was sitting near enough to receive a hefty wallop on the shin. Gritty, indeed.

When we got home after our meal, we were just about to go to bed when I noticed that the patio was awash with blood. Murder most foul? No, stupid bloody greyhounds who must be the most copious bleeders ever. Somehow, in his last-pee-wanderings, Arthur had ripped off the outside claw of his left front paw. Well, I say ripped off, it’s still hanging in there awaiting a trundle down to the vet’s tomorrow. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to pack some flexible bandages so we attempted to bind his paw up so that he could at least travel without leaving blood spatter all the way up the A20. Now of all my lot, Arthur is the biggest wuss in the whole wide world. Come within a foot of an injury and he screams like a girl. Keep at it and he might just take a chunk out of your arm. I survived unscathed and the binding lasted until we were back – job done. He’s now chewed it off but as the paw’s not bleeding, I’m letting him go au naturel until we get to the vets. They can have the pleasure of treating him, preferably under heavy sedation if they value their fingers. At the moment, he’s putting this ridiculous act on, playing for sympathy with pathetic hops around the living room. Shame he forgets the tripod act whenever there’s a hint of a sausage on offer. If there was an Olympic event for canine shystering, Arthur would take gold, no problem.

21 August 2008

Breaking news

Mother has always maintained that nothing ever happens in this village. So how does she explain the car that has just spontaneously combusted in the next street? High drama as thick black smoke billowed up into the sky, bringing half the locals out to have a nosey, us included. The fire truck soon dampened their enthusiasm along with the burning auto. But it still ranks as possibly the most exciting thing that's happened here since M. Silvestre's wife set the kitchen alight with her deep fat fryer.

Signing off now

Your southern France correspondent

Feeling hot, hot, hot

Another day of glorious sunshine with temperatures pushing into the nineties. After a spot of dog walking through the vines, we caught up with some work before friends of mum’s popped over to say hello and to meet the hounds. As usual Monty was a great big wuss, barking madly until he realised there was no danger and then slowly creeping towards where the action was in the hope of cadging a gravy bone. They’ve been flat out for the rest of the day, having spent most of their energy first thing this morning in letting the assorted neighbours’ dogs know who’s who around here. Ranger has been in particularly fine voice with a penchant for hurtling through the bushes and up to the chain link fence to give next door’s shaggy black pooch a right earful. The poor little lamb’s totally innocent and I can only imagine what les voisins are saying right now. I think Susie and co started off as beaux, but are now probably being lambasted as a right bloody nuisance. No doubt the flags will go out when we leave on Saturday...

One thing that has been absolutely magical here and that I will be sad to leave behind is the absolute emptiness of the place. We have the hills to ourselves and the roads are ridiculously empty. It seems from the blogs that the cut is experiencing its usual summer holiday crush and to be honest, I’m not too sad to be having a leave of absence over this busy period. Still looking forward to getting back on board in September though...I blame Indigo Dream for my growing yearning for an on board espresso machine...which means a bigger inverter...which could mean another battery....which could mean an enlarged battery compartment...which could mean a reconfiguration of the engine hole...which, oh, never mind, I’ll stick with the ruddy cafetiere.

20 August 2008

Sure beats home

A better class of dog walk
(pics courtesy of A's mobile)

19 August 2008

Mardi blah

Not a lot to report from the southern front. A cooler day today after Monday’s scorcher, which would have encouraged a greater degree of activity in the dogs were it not for the fact that we dragged them round the hills for an hour yesterday evening and completely knackered them out. They slept like logs until a neighbour’s dog decided to put his poochy head above the parapet, prompting an instant awake-and-stampede so beloved of my lot. I dragged myself from my bed to restore order, only for the labrador on the other side of us to set them off again. From my mother’s deep sighs, I get the feeling all seven of us are outstaying our welcome. None of the gang can possibly measure up to her precious little Pyrenean shepherd dog (who is currently in lodgings for her own protection) and with every surreptitious tongue in the tea and not so surreptitious lick of the plate, their stock falls ever faster. ‘My dog would never do something like that’ has been an oft-heard refrain these past weeks.

I was hoping to put in a few photos because the views we’ve been enjoying on our promenades des chiens have been absolutely exquisite. So not the best time to drop and break my camera...the techie guru has promised me he’ll get his tiny screwdrivers on the case and see if he can breathe some life into it. If not, then I may have to go and have some retail therapy courtesy of the electronics department of M LeClerc. It helps that I still live in that happy deluded land where 2 Euros equal £1. Let’s have a look at that Nikon...

18 August 2008

Monty's diary

Dear Diary

Last night I ran into the orchard at 10pm and found a large ball in the hedge. It was a very prickly ball and after squeezing it a couple of times I dropped it. I was just about to sniff it some more when mummy charged out of the house like a crazy woman telling me to leave it. I don’t know what was wrong with her but she dragged me over to the bucket and gave me a full-on mouthwash. She then went back into the orchard and chucked my ball over the fence like a right old party pooper. I didn’t mind too much as my mouth was quite sore by then and I wanted to go to bed but mummy kept on wagging her finger at me and mumbling something that sounded like ‘chedgebog’. I have no idea what a chedgebog is. If I knew what it was, I’d get her one and put it in her bed for her. She likes presents. It’s very hot here so I’m going to lie down for another six hours. Someone wake me when it’s time for my sausage baguette.

17 August 2008

I can see you

Monty and Ranger fail to win gold in the Hide and Seek Olympics

16 August 2008


Hello Britain, France calling! Yep, we’ve strung up some cocoa tins and we’re now online! We’ve just about recovered from the trip down which seemed to take forever, mainly due to mother wanting to stop every two minutes, first for a cup of tea, followed by a trip to the loo. The dogs slept through most of it, dutifully trotting out every third aire for pees and poops, but they had their reward when finally let out into mum’s garden. They went bonkers for about half an hour, but as is always the case with greys, soon got bored and came back to find us in the house. As I speak, they’re looking decorative on the Persian rug.

The warmth and sunshine contrasted nicely with the thunderous rain we endured on the run down to Folkestone. One unexpected downside was that the rain activated the encrusted pig shit on the motorhome roof (it’s stored at a pig farm) and so we were trundling along in a PigPen like miasma for about twenty miles. No wonder we were getting funny looks...I think it had finally worn off by the time we got to Maidstone services as no-one was holding their nose as they walked past. Despite assurances to one another that we wouldn’t fall asleep, we did just that but at least one of us – me – had the sense to set an alarm. A bucket of Costa each later, and we were raring to go.

That didn’t last long as we only rared down to the northern environs of Paris where Morpheus finally caught up with us. A maintained that he only needed a 30 minute nap and he’s be good for another 400 miles – he was out by about, oh, five hours or so, but we finally got under way at about 9am. After the drama of an Aeroflot plane nearly landing on us at Charles de Gaulle (part of the runway actually forms the motorway bridge), it was pretty much plain sailing all the way down to Toulouse.

The dogs are slowly getting used to their new quarters although Susie getting into mother’s special chair this afternoon went down like poo on your plimsoll. And it’s reassuring to know that even all these miles from home, under a cerulean sky amidst the lavender and the vines, Ranger is still there hoovering up everyone else’s dinner. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose!

15 August 2008

Un post

Ah ha...a cunning pre-post means you don’t even get one day without me! All being well we should be in France when you read this, probably somewhere around Limoges with a fair wind behind us (sausages for the dogs pre-departure). From my researches it appears that they are anticipating my arrival weather-wise and giving me English cool and cloud, as opposed to 90 degree Mediterranean sunshine – generous and thoughtful but really not necessary. I want to be able to blog standing in the pool, not in my coat. Here’s hoping le meteo is as accurate as Michael Fish circa 1997...

14 August 2008

Le depart

Rush, rush, rush, no time to blog. Hospital appointment, passport collection, dog walking, shopping, packing, dog mustering, into the van and go. By the time you read this, we’ll probably be asleep in some lay-by outside Folkestone, waking in a panic to find that we’ve left Arthur behind only to locate him cowering in the loo. The flying baked bean tins have scarred him for life, obviously. I’m looking forward to buttering up some fresh baguettes and croissants en route – I daresay A will give me the evils for putting jammy mitts on his dash but you know what, je m’en fiche! Blogging service will be resumed as soon as we have done battle with France Telecom and succeeded in setting up mother’s broadband. Sometime in 2011...

13 August 2008

Almost ready for the off - just

Okay, picture the scene. T minus three, ten pm, a general retiring to bed amidst growing signs of pre-departure nerves in mother. I’m just pritt sticking Ranger’s pic in his passport (optional but cute) when I have a light-bulb moment – where are the red jobs? Cue feverish hunt of the shelves – relief when I spy the fancy gold lettering – and complete mental breakdown when I see that A’s passport has expired. Last December. Bloody buggery bollocks, as they say in Ab Fab. I impart the news to mother who visibly wilts in front of me, sinking to the sofa as the vision of her Room 101 – a Ryanair flight – swims into view. What to do? Well, it’s SuperGreygal to the rescue as I google emergency passports and discover that the IPS (Identity and Passport Service) do a same day, super fast track version – all yours for just £114! So at 10.15pm, I ring up and make an appointment – yes, you read it correctly, make an appointment. At 10.15pm. Well done, the IPS!

We duly trotted along to the Peterborough Office at 4pm today and after half an hour we were all done – they were friendly, efficient and as several crisp twenties passed across the counter, eager to assure us that a newly minted, in date passport would be ready for collection first thing tomorrow (it was a bit late in the day for a genuine same day but we weren’t complaining). Mother is mightily relieved and is now confidently planning the travelling commissariat – so tomorrow, despite my reassurances that there are in fact shops en route, we’ll be going back for the other half of Sainsburys.

12 August 2008

Blogger banter

Today I had the pleasure of meeting those canine stars of the cut, Floyd and Fletcher of NB Caxton. What gorgeous dogs – soft, sleek, shiny and impeccably well-behaved, not moving an inch during our lengthy sojourn in the pub, not even to sniff up my BLT. Good breeding obviously runs in the family as their human owners, Lesley and Joe, were an equally delightful couple, brimming with enthusiasm about their soon-to-be life afloat. With their positive outlook and pragmatic approach they'll have a ball and I’m looking forward to meeting up with them again but on the cut next time. On this occasion we relied on cars to transport us to a nice little pub near Lesley and Joe’s campsite and we happily wiled away the whole afternoon. Of course, boaters/bloggers come genetically equipped with the YY chromosome (YY, as in Yakkity Yak) so we enjoyed four hours of non-stop chat, covering the full gamut of subjects from dogs to blogs, dinettes to bogs. In our defence, we didn’t do ‘toilet talk’ until at least the third hour, which is probably some sort of record, and it was only with huge reluctance that I eventually dragged myself away. It’s always so nice to meet bloggers in the flesh – posts and emails are great but there’s nothing like a proper face-to-face get-together. And how refreshing to eat a meal in the company of dogs without having to put razor-wire round your bacon sarnie...

11 August 2008

Counting down

Well it’s T minus 4 till departure. Mother has defied the laws of physics and decanted half of Sainsbugs into our motorhome – should there be an apocalypse on the way down the A10 I think we’re good for a six month survivalist siege. We went over to check the van yesterday and to start packing some of the 6 million teabags into the overhead lockers. We also took the opportunity of turning the engine over, a good thing really as it was as flat as a Robin Evans’ speech. An hour of faffing around with some prehistoric jump leads later, we gave up and called the AA, who turned up in 50 minutes, got us started and gave us some excellent advice going forward on how to preserve our battery. It’s now being slowly cooked with a battery charger, and a good run down to Folkestone and then on down to Carcassonne should see it fully rehabilitated – fingers crossed.

Between now and then, we have a bloggers’ meet in the diary, as Lesley and Joe off Caxton are camping just up the road and we’ve arranged to meet them for lunch. We’ll be trying to infiltrate Ranger into their Labrador gang – a bit of Kiwi boot polish is all that’s needed to make him a perfect ringer. As Ranger’s nickname is Fuzzy, there’s a perfect alliterative alignment with new muckers to be, Floyd and Fletcher. We’re hoping Lesley and Joe won’t notice this covert pack expansion after a few pints of Adnams’ finest. It’ll be great to hear all about their plans for the future and to indulge in some boating chat – I guess dogs, blogs and bogs will feature prominently, so I’ll be in my element. You know me, very high brow.

10 August 2008

In the wee small hours of the morning

Today I booked our Eurotunnel passage for our trip down to the South of France. We’re saving mother from the grubby clutches of Ryanair and driving her home instead, using the motorhome as a removals van given the amount of stuff she wants to take with her (in her defence, collected over the course of a number of previous visits.) We’re booked on the 1.20am train. Yes, you read that correctly, am. I can’t remember the last time I was actually awake and conscious at that time of the morning...possibly when I was about 14. But not only is it cheaper to travel then but more importantly it allows us to drive through Paris when there’s hardly anyone about. We’ve done this very successfully before, only succumbing to sleep at Orleans, and it beats titting about on N roads and trying to find your way through Rouen (seven different routes to date and counting).

Of course, it also gives me a legitimate excuse to stop at the 24-hour Costa Coffee at Maidstone services where I’ll be ordering trebles all round – I’m normally not one to drink coffee after about 2pm but we’ll need something to get us through the wee small hours. And there’s something about driving with your bed in the back, it just seems to encourage one’s doziness and to invite you in with its alluring soft duvet and plump pillows. The three or four farting dogs in residence are less of an attraction, and MONTY, STOP LICKING MY PILLOW!

09 August 2008

2-4-6-8 Motorway

[With apologies to Tom Robinson]

The price we have to pay for our part-time boating is an unhealthy amount of time spent on Britain’s motorways. But there are some upsides – Norton Canes and Stafford South Services, to name but two, purveyors both of some very decent Costa Coffee, while Corley often tempts us with its green grass and unique Starbucks concession. Personally speaking, it’s a long time since I can remember having a really, really poor experience at a motorway services (if you exclude my visits to Birchanger Green which would give Dante the willies); these days they all seem worlds apart from the horrors of the old Trust House Forte and you can usually get a passable cup of coffee wherever you go.

One of my favourite websites is http://www.motorwayservices.info/, purely for the caustic comments and disparaging diatribes left by unhappy punters - a collective heads-up on those stops to avoid. I love the rating system, using burgers – the only services consistently rated at 5 burgers (the gold standard!) is the delightful Tebay on the M6. I’ve been there once and it does stand out in the memory. But then I could say the same about Bridgwater, just not for the right reasons. Cross the Rubicon of the slip road chevrons and it's very much a case of Veni, vidi, vile and seedy, let's get the hell out of here. [With apologies to Julius]

08 August 2008

There will be trouble ahead, no maybe about it

As a rule, A doesn’t do things behind my back. Sensible lad. So imagine my horror when last night I saw him cleaning the innards of a keyboard that I didn’t recognise. He’s only gone and bought another one without my per! So now we have a Roland, a Korg and a Yamaha cluttering up the place. The whole point of clearing out our back room cum office recently was to make it into an agreeable living space. Remove the crap, put a new floor down, get some nice sofas in there, lovely – a perfect retreat from the dogs/telly/dining/workshop space. We’d brokered a deal that said he could have one corner for his music but he had to keep it tidy – how is he going to keep three keyboards, a mixing desk, an amp and a computer tidy? How is he even going to keep it in one corner? Will I really want to sit in there with him thumping the keys, twiddling his knobs and humming to himself with his headphones on? More to the point, how are we ever going to successfully transition onto a boat? Forget the stretch, has anyone got a Humber keel going spare?

David and Goliath

Wow, hats off to David Scowcroft! You’ll be familiar with David from his wife Brenda’s Mr David blog but have you stumbled upon his own Canal Travels blog? Only four entries so far but everyone a Goliath of a post, a come-with-me-as-we-go style cruising guide to various canals, including the Rochdale and Kennet and Avon. I clocked his Llangollen effort at 6772 words! Every lock, every landmark is detailed and opined upon and if it had photos it would be the next best thing to doing it yourself. I’m aware that Mr David has now left the fleshpots of Birmingham so I’m hopeful that more cruising will mean more Canal Travel blogging. But how on earth does he remember everything? I can barely recall the previous night’s mooring, let alone which paddle on which lock wasn’t working. And what canal are we on anyway?

07 August 2008

Windsong on air

As someone who has herself been encouraged by kind words and gentle prompts to keep blogging, I’m keen to do the same for other embryonic bloggers. NB Windsong is only two posts old but that’s probably because the base plate hasn’t been laid yet – XR&D are scheduled to start work on the shell any time now and Beacon Boats will be doing the fit out. I do hope we hear lots more from Pip and Roger as their boating dream takes shape. And what a wonderful pair of names for a boaty couple – quite Swallows and Amazons-ish. Talking of which...have you ever actually met anyone called Titty?

In the bedroom

I see that Lesley and Joe of Caxton are sensible enough to have their doggie boudoir downstairs. As you may have read elsewhere, our five have made themselves at home in our bedroom. Well, we are the Seven Musketeers – one for all, all for one, where you go, we’ll go, what’s yours is ours, now shove over. I know some people may be aghast at this but that’s just greyhounds and their soppy owners for you. But there is a certain order and routine about bedtime.

When we say it’s time for bed, they go upstairs, Miffy and Monty leading the way and getting pole position on the dog duvets. Susie, Arthur and Ranger will wait outside the bathroom, Ranger immediately following me to bed when I appear and Arthur succumbing to some encouragement up the bum to get up and do the same. Susie will come up when it suits her, usually a couple of minutes after the rest. It’s only then that the bedroom door is shut to prevent any nocturnal wanderings.

Susie as pack leader is allowed to sleep on the bed and takes up station against the footboard. Ranger is always on the side of the bed nearest the door, Arthur and Miffy in the narrow gap between the bed and the wall. It’s Monty who is the joker in the pack. Sometimes he’s quite happy to lie down next to Ranger except Ranger will invariably growl at him, sending him round to Miffy and Arthur to see if there’s any room at the inn. If there isn’t, he starts squeaking and if I can’t be bothered to get up and forcibly make room for him, I elect instead to encourage him to get up alongside his daddy. So quite often A is to be found with a great big wolf sharing his pillow. But he – Monty - never stops there all night, jumping off at some point and finding a spot of his own. And that’s that until the alarm goes off. If after this point I make any sort of movement at all, like turning over, then Ranger is immediately up in my face, supplementing Sarah Kennedy with some barking. For some people, the barking would be preferable...Unwilling to get up just at this point I tell him to go and lie down, which he dutifully does. I snooze for a few more minutes, turn over again and then he’s at me again, this time with hot breath and kisses. Surely it should be my husband doing that? We go through the same routine three or four times each morning until my need for a cup of tea is too great and I get up.

Now, bearing in mind that I am just three feet away from the bedroom door and my dogs, to all intents and purposes are asleep, with the exception of Ranger, how come I can never get out of the room without being smothered by eager doggie faces with paws clawing at my bare legs and barks of joy bursting my ear drums? This is invariably my fate with the three boys leading the charge – Miffy is more interested in being let out, with her paw gently scraping at the door, and Susie couldn’t care less as she is still fast asleep. When the door is finally opened, Miffy and Ranger charge down the stairs, Miffy to go outside for a wee and Ranger to see if there’s anything left in last night’s dinner bowls. Arthur, who at this juncture has the demeanour of a dog with a full bladder, never actually goes outside but just sphinxes on the landing. Monty sometimes hops ups next to sleeping daddy again but always hops off again if he hears me coming. Most of the time, he will also be taking his ease on the landing.

While tea is made, I usually have Ranger circling for any stray crumbs and when I take the tea up to A he always charges past me and leaps up onto the bed. He will then lie down for cuddles while we’re sipping tea and dunking biscuits, where he will frequently be joined by Miffy who does a nice line in dog agility. We can hear her tearing up the stairs, and with a smart 60 degree turn into the bedroom, she throws herself onto the bed next to Ranger. As soon as I signal to her to get down, she instantly drops flat on the duvet, sheepdog style. Mind you, this is the only time she’ll do it. At other times, she just gives me the canine equivalent of the finger. So it’s all very cuddly and fun for ten minutes or so and when we eventually get up and go to the bathroom, the dogs all come and wait patiently outside. They know that if mum and dad come out properly dressed, it’s walks on. We know that if we come out properly dressed, it’s madness as they’re all full of it.

I’m amazed that I’ve never tumbled down the stairs the amount of pushing and barging that goes on and when I pick up the leads, the frenzy reaches fever pitch. However they have to wait until they are calm before their leads are put on, just so that I have the feeling that I have some sort of control over them. The walks, by comparison, are tame, placid and orderly affairs but I wouldn’t swap the morning madness for the world. That dogs should experience such joy and fun and excitement in their retirement is something to celebrate, not censure. Obviously, if there is any kicking off before the alarm (and it has been known), I’ll all for censuring and they can bloody well bugger off.

06 August 2008

Bean there, got the addiction

Two things you should already know about me: I’m easily pleased and I love coffee. One of the best days of my London working life was when I heard that they were putting in a Starbucks 100 yards from the office. Today I have experienced similar levels of elation in learning that our soon to be expanded Tesco is getting a Costa Coffee. However this all pales into comparison when compared to the nirvana enjoyed by a friend of my mother in the south of France. She spends her time driving round markets in the sunny Languedoc in her dedicated coffee wagon, complete with crazy all over bean graphics, the finest Italian roasts and a shiny beast of a Gaggia espresso machine that you’d make a Faustian pact to possess. As the local French brews can be a bit rough, when we go down in ten days’ time, we will no doubt be frequenting said wagon. Hell, we’ll probably steal it...

Here's my soul now gimme...

Dog rolls on

Wow, the dog blog roll has now hit 30! I’ve been a bit slow in adding Ten Bob Note as I’ve known about their two bouncy pooches for ages but I’m indebted to Granny’s master blog list for leading me to Penelope, Floating Abode, Wilvir and Piston Broke. Still no-one insane enough to have five...at last, I'm in a league of my own!

05 August 2008

Ripping yarn

Are you following the Lucky Duck blog at the moment? It’s smashing fun as, having taken possession of their new floating home, James and Amy are now sailing her back to Cambridge from Birmingham and recording their adventures as they go. They’re happy to share their ‘first time’ with us and it’s a wonderfully fresh, witty and exuberant account of how it is for them. I had to giggle at this bit because it brought back a fun memory of my own:

"Setting off again, we passed through more wooded areas, before reaching Bridge 8. This was a drawbridge, operated with a BW key in a control panel. I guided the boat between two rows of wooden stakes, and Amy went ashore to operate it. Much to the hilarity of onlookers, she caught a car on the bridge between two sets of barriers! The driver, seeing the descending barriers, accelerated hard to try and get through but didn't make it across. It was tempting to try and open the bridge with them on it, but decided better and Amy kindly let them get off."

We had the very same thing happen to us on the Macc last year at the Royal Oak swing bridge. Sadly, unlike James who had a full view, I only got the first reel of our ‘action feature’ (well, this was stunt driving wasn’t it? That’s stunt with a ‘st’ as opposed to a.....never mind). I was hanging back on the boat and could see the right hand side of the bridge and the descending barrier. Then, out of nowhere, a green car shot forward and onto the bridge, shaving the underneath of the barrier and...I couldn’t see any more. The denouement played out behind a screen of trees. It was like your 10p running out in one of those What the Butler Saw machines...Of course, I braced myself for the crunch of metal on metal. But none came. I kept bracing for the sounds of an expletive fuelled exchange and a right old punch up. But none came. I waited instead for some indication that I could proceed. But none came. So I stood around like a spare part for a quarter of an hour imagining all sorts. Maybe they’d throttled one another silently. I was just about to go and make a cup of tea when at last the bridge opened and I moved off. A was smiling and looking unmarked, there was no sign of the other chap or his car, so I could only assume everything had been sorted amicably and A hadn’t lammed Evil Knieval with his windless and shoved him in the cut. When we were finally reunited, A explained – with a very smug expression, I must say – that he had trapped the car perfectly between the two barriers and was quite prepared to swing the whole kit and caboodle except that the weight of the car had somehow fouled the mechanism. Well, fouled everything to be honest as they couldn’t raise the barriers either. A was just about to call the boys in BW blue when somehow everything kicked back into life again, the car was driven off somewhat shamefacedly and I was at last allowed to proceed.

After all this drama, we decided to moor up for the night even though it was early. We’d spied the pub across the way and although it didn’t look particularly promising, it proved to be one of those serendipitous finds. Even a moral dilemma could not take the edge off the warm welcome and the good food – but it did prove an interesting conversation point though. We were already onto our main courses when a couple walked in. The lady was in her forties and wearing a smart dark blue pair of trousers. They took up station at the bar, the lady with her back to us now directly in our eye-line. It was then the fun started...

Old Sherlock, coming up for air from his steak and kidney, immediately notices that she has a huge rip in the seat of her trousers, exposing a fair degree of knicker and buttock. With surprising gallantry, he suggests that I really ought to go and tell her. I respond that what she doesn’t know, can’t hurt her, and besides she’ll surely be sitting down to dinner shortly where it won’t be noticed. Of course, they proceed to stand there for another thirty minutes, with half the Queen’s Dragoon Guards passing by, and A is ploughing through his jam roly poly mentally shaking his head at this lack of female solidarity. Now I swear to you I wasn’t being cowardly, I just didn’t want to embarrass her – it would have been mortifying for her to know that her backside had been advertising itself all this while. Personally, I'm amazed she didn't feel the breeze... Of course, when she toddled off to the ladies, A started jabbing his elbows into my side, urging me to use the privacy of the cloakroom to have a quiet word. I’m afraid I still declined – ignorance was surely bliss, I argued. There was a lot of tutting in between slurping up the custard, I can tell you, but eventually the couple took their seats and put an end to my angst and guilt. She had best end, he had rump, I got a kick up the silverside. What a bummer....

Reading between the headlines

I don’t know about you but sometimes I read a headline in the paper or on the web and I immediately conjure up the rest of the story. Except when I read on, the real story bears no relation to the one I’d just thought up. Take today, for instance, when I saw the following Google News alert:

"Was it an organ found in the St Petersburg Canal?"

Now in light of my recent post here, my mind instantly leapt to some poor wife, tired of her husband cluttering up the place with his keyboards, finally breaking and chucking his prize Roland into the cut. I could see it all, the shouts, the threats, the fateful toss, the recriminations, the fruitless search, the divorce. What they actually found was a lung. Okay, so she murdered him too...

04 August 2008

K2 K9s

Dogs. While I’m rarely outdone on numbers, I am onto a bit of a loser when it comes to variety. So, Steve Edwards (you're too kind), I’ll give you your moment of glory as you shamelessly show off not only a green-eyed monster inducing tug deck but four cracking dogs of infinite hue – two beagles, a golden Lab and a GSD. And did you see that shepherd? What a poser! Doing his best-cutie-look-straight-into-the-camera thing. Indeed, the calmness and order prevalent in the whole photo is quite impressive – they’re all looking the right way for one thing and no-one’s bum is obscuring someone else’s face. There’s a spirit of co-operation there, a sense of propriety. My lot are the same, really. Oh look, there’s the camera, let’s be good for mummy, let’s make a lovely photo...

Paying a premium

The other week I saw an item in Guardian Money about insurance premiums shooting up for certain breeds of dog. The picture of the cute greyhound with its lady owner immediately told me the worst, that greyhounds were now one of the ‘select few’ and so I perused the article with extra interest. As is made clear from the lady’s own findings, someone is taking the pee somewhere and she finally settled on a good value premium from M&S – some 50% cheaper than her renewal quote from Sainsbugs. M&S now do an excellent standard cover policy that is slightly more affordable than their gold-plated Premium cover but still gives you the peace of mind in those critical areas. The one downside for me is that with dogs nine years or over, you start having to pay 20% of the cost of any treatment as well as an excess. So I’ll probably stick with PetPlan who don’t appear to enforce any limits in terms of age or treatment length. They have also never let me down in terms of wriggling out of their responsibilities and are always prompt and efficient. In other words, they have succeeded in building up a big store of goodwill – it would take a lot to make me move insurers.

Today, that goodwill was duly tested when Susie’s renewal notice came through – and it had gone up by a third. And yet we haven’t made any claims for her in the last four years. Shouldn’t she have a doggie No Claims Bonus? The premium should be going down, not up. Obviously, if I apply this logic to Arthur, then the policy would be about 5 grand but hey, what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts. I actually rang Pet Plan for an explanation and they said that this was not a breed specific increase in their case (phew) but a) an across the board price hike to cover bigger veterinary fees and b) a nod to the age of the pet, as from now on, claims are statistically more likely. That was good enough for me and I’ll be pumping myself up to read out the long number without wincing at some date in the very near future. Well, dates, to be exact, as barely a month passes without another renewal coming in...surely I should be eligible for some sort of ‘insure four, get the fifth one free’ offer? Anyone?

03 August 2008

Middlewich memories

One of the things I loved most about the Weltonfield hire boats we used to take out was the sound they made. They all had indestructible 3-cylinder Listers and they made a wonderful thump under your feet as you chugged along the cut. You had to shout at one another to make yourself heard but it was a small price to pay. So when the first seed of boat ownership was sown all those years later, I had a hankering for a good old engine note. But then I also wanted all those gorgeous things that were incompatible with pragmatism and a micro bank balance – a seventy footer, a long tug deck, recessed panels, and an engine room with something that had once possibly powered a bus.

Money talks, of course, and as mine was permanently dumb, we ended up with a 57 footer plus Beta 43. But I can have no complaints. It sounds pretty good, it’s remarkably reliable and it takes up very little room. The single lever control also keeps life refreshingly uncomplicated. In fact, I’m not too sure that if I’d gone down the vintage route whether I would ever have mastered the speed wheel and rods set up. I have a horrible feeling that I would have been spinning one way when I should have been going the other and pushing when I should have been pulling...or the other way around. I had actually witnessed that very nightmare while hiring with A and I think I made a subconscious decision then and there to keep things simple.

We were just coming up to Wardle Lock and as someone was ahead of us, we tied up and went to lend a hand. Maureen was already outside imparting some advice to the helmsman and we quickly clocked that this was a just departed Middlewich hireboat with a Liverpudlian hen party on board. They were already in excellent spirits – Bacardi Breezers I think – but were slightly hesitant as this was everyone’s first time on a narrowboat. Now anyone who’s done Wardle Lock will know that it is a bit of a minx in that if you are anywhere other than right on the top gate it will draw you forward pretty sharpish, however slowly you raise the paddles. Right on cue the boat started to move forward, at which point Maureen advised a bit of reverse. The girl at the tiller got very confused, understandably given that she’d only been at the controls two minutes, and span the wheel the wrong way.

Isn’t it amazing how much momentum you can build up in a lock? Being made of tough stuff, the lock gate groaned but held and the boat bounced off it. Trouble was, by now the girl had found reverse and the boat, already ricocheting back the other way, started to really steam down the lock. Maureen was shouting, the girls were screaming, I just shut my eyes and waited. I had visions of this boat flying out through ruptured bottom gates and was glad we’d tied round the corner. Somehow forward gear was engaged just in time to soften the blow a tad but an almighty thud still had me opening one eye cautiously to see if the gates and boat were intact. You could hear the collective deep breaths of relief as they escaped from their first lock, all alcohol still in tact. I didn’t have the heart to tell them there was another lock just up ahead.

When we eventually came through the lock ourselves ten minutes later, Maureen asked us to keep an eye on them as she thought it a bit unkind to send complete novices out on a boat with a speed wheel and they were still obviously struggling with the basics. She was worried for them and so were we, so we were somewhat relieved to see that they’d had enough for the day and were attempting to tie up before the next lock. Except they weren’t going anywhere as they had become completely wedged on the mud. We came up alongside and told them to chuck it in reverse and see what happened. Nothing. We tried to tow them off, but couldn’t shift them. It started to rain, but this was just the cue for more Bacardi Breezers to be opened. I can remember very clearly that absolutely nothing was going to spoil this party.

In the end, I sent A across to supervise a bit of gunwhale rocking. We selected those girls that were only half paralytic and with A showing them the way, they started rocking the boat. Much encouragement from the others was heard through the gathering gloom and then it happened. A, the person who was supposed to know what he was doing, lost his footing and fell in. Of course, that was the catalyst for much hysteria and Scouse squawking and I thought A was about to have a sense of humour failure. But good on him, he merely gathered himself together, commented on how it was warmer in the canal than out and proceeded, with great perspicuity, to wade round to the other side of the boat. Once there, he braced himself against the bank and pushed the boat off the mud with his feet, to the accompaniment of loud cheers from his newly acquired groupies.

We both got moored up soon after with no more crises and A set about drying himself off. The one problem he faced was that he’d only brought one pair of boots, his favoured Caterpillar ones, and they were soaked through. They weren’t going to dry either outside or inside without some help so he hit upon the idea of putting them in the oven. Well, folks, should you ever have a moment of insanity and fancy creating that special 'rendering plant atmosphere' on your boat, then I suggest you stick in some leather size tens at Gas Mark 6.

02 August 2008

A mischievous thought

I stumbled upon this Venice-related travel tip on the Guardian Unlimited website this morning:

"You can take your dog on the Vaporetto but don't forget to bring a leash and muzzle."

I'm so tempted...do you think I'd make the news? Oggi cinque levrieri ran amokko...

He, he, I spy a Cornetto...

Voice of Sanity

I’m only going to say this once, a la Michelle out of Allo Allo. Everything I’ve said previously about my unapologetic hanging of stern ropes from tiller pins? Forget it. I think I’m going to coil it loosely but neatly round the dollies from now on. And why this unashamed volte face? It’s because my vicarious cruising rock and fave blogger, the sage-like Bruce of Sanity, has provided an eminently sensible reason to relocate the offending article that has nothing to do with flouting tradition or ropes fouling props or flying tiller pins – it’s simply that my lovely brass greyhound would be shown off to much better effect without being cunningly disguised as a pile of black nylon. It’s so sensible and logical that I’m completely stumped for a punchline.

Nope, still can't think of one.

Make your own up. I'm off to bed.

01 August 2008

Happy birthday

My gorgeous lovely Miffy is 8 years old today. The little shy dog that came to share our home more than three years ago is a far cry from the confident, self-possessed and independent little miss she is now and it’s been wonderfully rewarding to see her change and to respond to the love and affection of a forever home. She is so young in spirit and so sprightly in her ways that I can’t ever imagine her growing old and leaving me. It’ll be Cumberland sausage treats for tea. Another year older, another year wider....

Tiller pin tale

After our very first trip on the boat, we put in an order for a longer tiller. It was absolute murder trying to shove her round with what we had and its tiddliness precluded me from sitting on the roof and steering at the same time. So a beautiful long tiller was duly fitted with just enough room to avoid me breaking my knuckles every time I wiggled it from left to right. We slotted in the kingfisher tiller pin that had come with the boat and off we toddled. But to be honest, I didn’t go a bundle on the brass bird so a couple of years later we bought a replacement, a majestic deer complete with antlers. The only trouble was, where was the connection? I wanted a pin that meant something to me and lovely though the deer was, he didn’t resonate with me. Then about three winters ago, we went up by car to Great Haywood. No idea why, we just did, and it was there that I stumbled upon a chap who made up tiller pins for boaters. I asked him if he could do a greyhound one and he said no problem, give him a few weeks and we could pick it up. He was as good as his word and it was a real belter – big, heavy and unmistakably greyhound.

It adorns the tiller with real grace and makes an excellent hook for my stern rope which I dangle unapologetically from it. I have to smile at those people who express concern that a snatched rope may hoik out the tiller pin and dunk it in the cut. Chance would be a fine thing - this pin, like every other I’ve had, has been a complete bugger to get in and out of the hole (so yes, maybe the hole’s on the small side.) It doesn’t go anywhere without a bit of force majeure and the odd dab of WD40 so I think it’s safe from a sudden immersion. I have brained myself a couple of times when after heaving and twisting the pin’s suddenly shot out, the pointy snout proving a particularly offensive weapon, nor do I advise you dropping it on a bare foot. But the boat wears it with pride, and the pin now has meaning and relevance, at least to me. We think the little brass sculpture most closely resembles Monty as he’s one of those rare commodities, a grey who can sit (it’s physically difficult for them to do it so they prefer to lie). Ranger can also sit but the last time I looked, my elegant pin dog didn’t have the remotest hint of a slightly pot-bellied Labrador.